When the European Parliament compared the Smart City initiatives of 468 European cities, Helsinki was ranked as one of the top six. Propelled by agile city development policies, Helsinki is planning to stay at the cutting edge in the future. 

Forum Virium Helsinki’s development projects drive the creation of digital city services. From the very start, ideas under development are tested as part of users’ everyday lives. Another goal is to create new business opportunities for companies.

“The city needs to be an enabler. The best way to enable is to open up processes, data and data systems as well as the city’s operating models,” Jarmo Eskelinen says.

The most significant pioneer work for opening up public data has been done by the Helsinki Region Infoshare service, involving municipalities in the Helsinki Metropolitan area. The numbers speak for themselves: the service already covers over 1000 open data sets.

But clever standalone mobile apps alone have not propelled Helsinki to the top of the world’s Smart City rankings. The city owes its success to the underlying basic philosophy, the transparency of public information. In 2011, the Ahjo decision making system gave 5000 civil servants and local politicians access to a paperless office. The system gained international recognition when the programming interface by Code fellow Juha Yrjölä expanded its potential user base to millions.

Kalasatama – a smart city district

Building a new city district requires millions in investment. How do Forum Virium Helsinki’s operating methods, agile piloting and user engagement fit in with creating city infrastructure?

“When the basic infrastructure works, people can build their own innovations on top of it. In Kalasatama the users have been involved from the beginning,” claims Veera Mustonen, a Project Manager of Smart Kalasatama project.

There sure is smart infrastructure in Kalasatama: the garbage bins empty themselves, in the smart grid energy and information travel in two directions, and a huge energy storage system is being planned with a capacity equivalent to the peak output of about 4000 solar panels.

“At best, it can be a bridge between corporate innovations and the city. And that is exactly what we need.”

The pilot culture bears fruit

The agile pilot culture is suitable for a vast range of projects and experiments. The agile development methods, common in the IT projects, work for the public sector and other aspects of city development, too.

“You build the first version quickly, launch it and see what kind of feedback you get. This method should be embraced throughout the public sector,” Jarmo Eskelinen says.

“The whole paradigm should be turned around, making service development projects into processes that push out products as quickly as possible. The development then kicks off and continues for a couple of years. Now what happens is that you make specifications for a couple of years, then order the work and implement it. The project ends just when it would be time to improve it.”

Solutions from the community

Forum Virium Helsinki’s development projects solve public sector problems, but the solutions are created together with companies and citizens. Mayor Pajunen is full of enthusiasm for the communal operating model.

“Citizens want to experience and do things together and get involved in city issues, while the city can open up its data and become an enabler. It’s a multiple win-win-win situation. Better co-operation with lower costs,” Pajunen muses.

The Mayor finds plenty of use for an open-minded development unit.
“Forum Virium Helsinki is an ideal partner when you’re looking for a flexible operating model for applying new technology. They’re there to talk about radical innovations, which go into an unknown territory,” Jussi Pajunen says.

The original text: Petja Partanen, Tarinatakomo
Photo: Okko Oinonen